Thursday, August 30, 2007

Only in Cairo Can You Go Bowling AND Eat at TGI Friday's In One Night

It is officially week two of my semester in Cairo, even though it feels like I've been here ages. It's actually pretty cool seeing how accustomed I've become to living here in only seven days. I'm starting to get really good at crossing insane streets, for one thing. Standing on the dotted line in the middle of the road as two cars fly past you on either side isn't that big a deal anymore. I can't wait to try it out back in Madison. The heat also doesn't affect me as much as it used to. When I first got here, I couldn't stand being outside for more than two minutes. But now I don't sweat as much (or I just don't mind sweating all day anymore), and when it dips down below 100, I find it's actually a comfortable temperature for me. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get back to Wisconsin in December.

We're only a week in, and already the school has split up into cliques, which is really stupid. The most notorious one is this girl Jessica, who won't even speak to anyone not in her clique. We don't like her at all. But other than a few obnoxious people, I still really like everyone here. And my main group of friends are all awesome. Since I'm awful with pictures, I only have one of Emily so far. So here she is, eating the hardest biscotti known to man:

It's been great not having any real classes other than Survival Arabic. That ended last night, though. We spent the first three hours of class learning new stuff and reviewing old stuff, and our teacher Maysa brought in these unbelievably delicious honey candies. I promise you've never had anything as amazing as those, whatever they were. They were so good that even some had ants on them, we were still wolfing them down. Then for the final two hours, all the classes went out in the streets to practice our new Arabic phrases on real people. So all of the sudden at 7 PM, all these unfortunate people just trying to run a fruit stand or something were hounded by hundreds of American students, pointing at stuff and asking, "How much is this?" "What is this?" in poor Arabic. It was very entertaining. We went through a really shifty-looking market that was actually in a warehouse, and at one point I was slapped by this enormous Santa's-bag-sized thing of some sort of meat this guy was carrying over his shoulder, and I had mystery meat juice all down my arm. It was a very disgusting place (I won't even describe the smells), but it was pretty cool. They had bags of spices and all sorts of vegetables and fish the size of cars. It was nuts. And all the people were so nice - various guys in their stalls would quiz us, pointing at vegetables and saying, "What's this? What's this?"

Our class then went to get Koshiri, an Arabic dish that shouldn't be good based on its looks, but for some reason is. I'm not sure what's in it, exactly - noodles, rice, chick peas, some black stuff, some red stuff, I don't know. But we sat in a tiny little restaurant and enjoyed it. The owner's son kept running over and asking if it was good, and when he cleared our plates, we slipped him a secret tip (baksheesh in Arabic), which he expertly slipped directly into his little pocket with a straight face, so his dad wouldn't take it and give it back to us.

We finished the night by going with Maysa to a cafe and drilling her with questions about her life and family. We got to meet her son, and the two of them invited us to their farm that is an hour's drive away from Cairo, to have a barbeque. I really hope we actually get to do this, because it sounds amazing, and I'd love to hang out with Maysa some more. She's an unbelievably giving person, one of the best teachers I've ever had in my life, and absolutely hilarious. She gave us all her cell phone number in case we need any help at all while we're here.

Two nights ago, we went to a nightclub called Latex. Seriously, we did. Nightclubs are most definitely not my thing, but neither are they Emily's, so we agreed we'd be awkward together. But it actually turned out to be pretty fun. It was basically an AUC mixer, because the majority of the place was AUC kids. The second we got there, Tara started going crazy (or crazier than usual, I guess), dancing like a lunatic, and she didn't stop for the next five hours. I'll have to get Emily's pictures of Tara, because she got some hilarious ones. Apparently when they went to the bathroom together, Tara was dancing up against the stall door as Emily was trying to go to the bathroom. Emily just said, "Magnoun," ("crazy") to the only Arabic woman in there, who laughed and high-fived her. But good times were had by all, and Emily, Kyle, and I left before most other people. We were worried Tara would be raped or something, since she was pretty drunk and all the Egyptians were looking to take advantage of the drunk little Iranian, but we left her in Beckett's hands, who eventually did get her home safely, long after the three of us had already gone to bed.

Last night, we decided the time had come to do Nile Bowling. Seven of us (me, Emily, Beckett, Kyle, Tara, Erik, and Ellen) got in two cabs and
attempted to get to the building. The problem was we barely knew anything about this place, other than the fact that it is on the Nile. Someone at the dorms who had already been there said the address was 125 Nile Street, which sounds absolutely made up. He also said it was across the street from the "Swiss Restaurant", which was a little too vague. But one of the cab drivers insisted he knew where it was, so off we went. We got caught up in conversation with our cab driver, who just kept naming American presidents to see if we liked them or not. ("George W. Bush is good big boss man!" "No no no no no. Bad bad big boss man," we all replied. "Bill Clinton?" he asked. "Yes! Yes!" we all shouted.) But we soon noticed we had crossed back and forth over the Nile about four times, and even though Erik and Kyle kept giving me two thumbs up from the back of their cab, it was pretty clear no one knew where the place was. Eventually we just got off on a bridge, paid the drivers the standard five pounds, and tried to find Nile Bowling from the bridge.

Beckett was 100% positive he knew where it was, so we followed him. We walked all the way across a rather wide section of the Nile, and then along it for about two miles, until we decided we were not in the right place. Who would have thought the Nile would be this long?! We went into some strange little playground/dance hall/fishing pier to ask directions, and got several directions that didn't help at all. But yours truly put the pieces together and realized it was all the way two miles back near the bridge we got off on. All we had to do was take a right when we came off the bridge and walk for ten minutes. Instead we took a left and walked for miles.

But we did find it, and it was spectacular. There were about eight lanes total in the little place, but you could look out at the Nile while bowling, which is probably better than any bowling experience any of you have ever had. Also, I won, even though I'm actually really bad at home. I love Egypt! We're definitely going back many times, and we've already started recruiting people for our next outing.

Afterward, it was 2 AM, but none of us had any desire to sleep. Then someone (Tara, I think) suggested buffalo wings, and buffalo wings became our mission. We chose - again, not joking - TGI Fridays for a really late-night meal. But this TGI Fridays was awesome. It's in a boat on the Nile, and it's where all the young, rich Egyptians go to hang out. We were the only white people in the joint, even though it was completely packed. And why were there small children at a TGI Fridays at 2 in the morning? It didn't make any sense.

All we did was ordered a crapload of food to share - three orders of wings, a cheeseburger and fries, a "fajita tower", and Emily got a fishbowl-sized virgin strawberry margarita that was basically pure sugar. We had an absolute blast, and I think Nile Bowling and late-night TGI Fridays are going to become a frequent tradition.

Today was more orientation, which we haven't had to sit through in quite a while. I slept in two hours late, so I missed some good Tomader stuff - apparently she basically told a Muslim girl who won't shake hands due to her religious beliefs that her religious beliefs were absolutely wrong, and then Tomader claimed she's a descendant of Mohammed. She's crazy. I got there just in time to learn about the various sports and clubs (I'm totally joining the Marionette Club), and to hear this awful guy drone on and on about "Who are the Egyptians?" He spent an hour talking about the many identities these people have - Egyptians, Arabs, Africans, Muslims, blah blah blah. It was kind of interesting, but I couldn't get past his voice (if you closed your eyes, Michael Moore was giving the presentation), and I thought it was all kind of useless, since every single person on this planet has at least two identities - national and continental. But my biggest concern is that he's an Egyptology professor, so there's a good chance he'll be teaching me. Fantastic.

Can't wait for the Red Sea tomorrow. Bright and early at 7:30 AM.

Monday, August 27, 2007

All Tutted Out

Remember what I said about not being able to remember the day before? This one is going to be difficult. I don't remember anything before my Survival Arabic class. And I don't remember if I've written anything about Survival Arabic yet, but it's awesome. We're all really learning a lot in such a short amount of time, and our teacher is really good. She clearly cares a lot about teaching (she's been teaching for, like, twenty years, but I truly thought she was only 30 years old until she told us her birthday today - she's 44). I feel like I can actually get around now. Today she taught us the most important thing - how to tell the cab driver to drive to the church across the street from our dorm, since no cab drivers know the dorm, but everyone knows the church.

After Arabic, I went up to my room, intending to sleep. Since sleep isn't done here, however, the second I left my room to go to the bathroom, I ended up going out to eat with two guys from my floor, Ian and Matt, and one from the floor below us, Eric, who is from Boston but is actually a freshman undergrad here - he's only in the first week of his four years at AUC! We went to this place that had really good pizza and ended up getting three large pizzas for the four of us. Eric can eat like me, so the two of us probably put away a pizza each.

Right before we had finished, Ian's friend from when he was here at AUC two years ago (he's 24 and he's practically a walking Cairo guidebook) called him to tell him he had just driven into town from Siwa. We knew people were going to this awesome place downtown that looks exactly like the kind of seedy bar Indiana Jones would hang out in, so he offered to pick us up, to save us from having to fork over the 25 cents each it would cost for a cab ride. When we got downtown, there was actually a rather large group of people, but people started leaving pretty soon after we got there, since it was already kind of late. I ended up going back to the dorm in a little bit with Emily E and Harty, a girl from my Arabic class. Emily regaled us with stories of some of the most embarrassing things I've ever heard, and we were so distracted that we drove right by the dorm. We then spent about ten minutes trying to direct our cab driver back to the dorm, even though we were totally lost. At one point he yelled out, "Oh my God!" He was pretty pissed with us.

I later found out that my cell phone fell out in my pocket in the cab. I've heard stories of people losing things in cabs and the drivers bringing them back the next day or later that night, but once I knew it was gone, I was sure there was no chance this guy would bring it back. He hated us. So now I have to buy a new phone, and I've lost everyone's numbers. Crap.

The next morning, I got up and met Emily, Harty, and Emily's boyfriend who is in town until Saturday, to go to the Cairo Museum. First we went out to lunch, and Ellen joined us. Ellen is also in my Arabic class (our class is filled with all the coolest people), but she's missed the past two days because she was bit by a possibly-rabid cat. So the doctor at orientation wasn't lying! She's fine, but she has to keep going back to the hospital to get the series of rabies shots. And now we're all on edge around these cats, which are literally everywhere. Cats just stroll around even inside the dorms - these Egyptians take their love of cats way too far. So anyway, we had lunch, where I tried for the first time the local mango juice. And now I'm addicted. It's mango season here, and I've heard stories about how great it is, but I had yet to experience it. There's no way I'm going to drink anything else until mango season ends.

Ellen went back to the dorm to risk more feline attacks, while the four of us headed off to the museum. We ended up paying some dude standing outside to take us on a tour of it, since we had only an hour and a half before class. But it quickly became apparent that the guy only studied some things, and he knew nothing except what he had memorized. He'd fly past all sorts of cool, 6000-year-old stuff, and whenever we stopped to ask him about stuff, he'd obviously get very upset, and then would just lie. Between the four of us, we knew more Egyptian history than him, so it was really easy to see when he was simply making things up. Eventually, we told him we had to leave earlier than we thought, paid him way more than we should have had to, and then did the museum on our own. The place is definitely a multi-trip spot. It's impossible how much stuff they have. They literally have just thrown things in corners because there is too many artifacts. Emily and I made sure to touch as much of it as we could, because there's nothing better than touching old crap, right? One of the coolest exhibits was, of course, King Tut's room. We got to see his famous golden mask, which was beautiful. And they had all the golden jewels and stuff that were on him when he was buried. It was staggering how rich these people were. We didn't see any mummies, because it costs extra and we figured we'd save that for day two at the museum. But if there's a way to touch some old dead crap, I'm definitely going to do it.

Then we all ran to Arabic class (with the exception of Emily's boyfriend, of course). Afterward, a small group of us went out to a bar for dinner, where we had some awesome food. We chose the place based solely on the fact that it had spring rolls, and Tara and I had been talking about Chinese food since we first met.

I really need to get better with these pictures. We tried our best to sneak our cameras into the museum, but it seems practically impossible. They've very thorough in their searches - the guard literally had his hand on my genitals several times. We did see one guy who had a camera phone taking a picture in the museum, and when a guard started yelling at him and demanding the phone, the guy just gave him a bribe and the matter was settled. Classic Cairo.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Feluccin' Awesome!

I fear the blog updates will become more and more scarce as the semester goes on. There's just too much happening all day, every day, and not enough time for me to even sleep. But I don't mind at all.

The problem with this is that even though I've been here for... four days, I think? It feels like at least a week and a half, so I'm having a hard time trying to remember what happened yesterday, because it's already become hazy. Which is another reason why I should keep updating this as much as possible, so I don't forget everything the second I get home. You just do so much all day long from sunrise to almost sunrise again in this city, that the days just go on forever. Which could be good or bad, depending on how much you like Cairo.

So day two of orientation was yesterday, but it was just a "general advising" meeting, where we got information on what we should do to prepare for registering for classes. It was hosted by, of course, the fearsome Tomader, and her really nice and obviously abused Dina. Dina was actually in charge of the thing, and she gave a real powerpoint presentation this time. She made it about two minutes before Tomader grabbed a microphone and cut her off, to basically say the exact same thing. This continued for some time (Tomader started whistling into the microphone while Dina was talking, to signal that it was time for Tomader to speak), and then some Doctor of Something came up to tell people what to do if they want to be in a higher Arabic level, and of course Tomader not only cut him off, but actually made him set down his microphone so we couldn't hear them when they started to get into fights. Then it came time for the questions from the students, and all hell broke loose. People started yelling at Tomader about the fact that we were told our tuition fees covered up to 15 credits (which we were told), but it was changed after we paid to only 12 credits. Well, then. You do NOT yell at the Tomader. It turned into sort of a screaming match, and that just opened the floodgates once people saw a sign of weakness in Tomader. This other girl who failed the Arabic placement exam twice thought she still deserved to take it a third time to place in a higher Arabic course, and Tomader shut her up pretty quickly with some sharp words. At some points, all sorts of people were just shouting stuff, or booing Tomader until she changed her mind about inane things people were fighting with her about, like what time the test results would be posted at. Even though we were supposed to cover more classes than Arabic, the orientation had to be dissolved, because I think Tomader feared a coup. All in all, it was very, very entertaining.

I took off with Emily and her roommates, because they kick ass and all the guys from my floor slept through the orientation. We successfully navigated the subway system to some area I think Emily wanted to go to. But when we got there, it was sort of slummy and filled with only American stores and restaurants (a Hardees with a Pizza Hut above it on the second floor, next to a Baskin Robbins). Plus it was noon on Friday, which is the time when everyone and everything stops to pray for a couple hours. At one point, we got in two cabs to try to find a specific restaurant, and while waiting for the cabs, some kid came up to me and started begging for money. He couldn't have been older than eight, and he was totally covered in dirt. He was part of a group of nearly twenty kids, who I suspected were orphans. I couldn't give him any money, because then I'd have to give all the kids money, and things would just go sour once I took out my wallet. But he wrapped his hands around my wrist and picked his feet off the ground, so I was actually carrying him. I pried his fingers off my arm and got into the cab (front seat, so the girls don't get raped, right Tomader?), and then pried his fingers off of the door so I wouldn't get them stuck in the cab. Then he punched me in the face through the window. It was more of a light push with his fist, but he was obviously pissed about the lack of money. I felt pretty bad, and I understand why he was mad, but I certainly wasn't going to give him money after he hit me. Still, seeing poverty like that was really depressing.

Anyway, we couldn't find a restaurant and ended up going to some cafe so the girls could use internet, since their apartment doesn't have any. Some of us then had to take the shuttles to campus for the Survival Arabic Course, which will supposedly teach us enough Arabic to get around Egypt. Everyone's split up into classes of six or so people, and I was already friends with the majority of my classmates (with the exception of the guy who mumbles everything and is constantly smiling like he's the Grinch or something), so I knew it wouldn't be too bad at all. Plus our teacher is really good and pretty funny. So even though it's three hours a night for the next week, I have learned a ton in only two days, and the class isn't too bad at all.

After Arabic, we all went back to the dorm for the dorm orientation. It's optional, but most people signed up for the free food, drinks, and felucca (basically an Egyptian sailboat) ride on the Nile. First we sat through another orientation run by our RA's who are all really nice, but I'm pretty sure they lie to scare us out of stuff. For example, there's no way a girl in previous years went to Alexandria for a weekend and ended up marrying some Egyptian guy who clearly only wanted a green card. But then it was time for the food (Pizza Hut, which is spectacularly awful in Egypt) and drinks (Pepsi). But whatever, it was free. A small group of us just grabbed a whole pizza and took it out into the courtyard to talk about things like female castration and abortions.

But there was no time for that crap, because we had a felucca to ride! Emily (heretoforth known as Emily E., to differentiate her from Emily S. from Madison) and I had a great time getting fake excited for our first-ever felucca ride. We tried to get everyone on our bus to our level of excitement, but the rest of the losers seemed kind of indifferent.

When we got to the Nile, we had to walk down some steps to get to the dock where about ten feluccas were waiting. Of course, there were hundreds of us, and we only made it about halfway down the steps before we were being yelled at by the RAs to turn back around. So we did, and stood in a massive group pretty much in the street. Then we went back down the stairs, only to be turned back again. This sort of stuff goes on all the time in Egypt, and it never gets less funny. Finally, we all boarded our various feluccas, and we were out on the water. At first, the breeze was really nice, and it was very cool actually sitting on a boat on the Nile, but eventually we were getting sore from the seats and a bit bored because we weren't moving, and the breeze had stopped so it was back to ninety degrees. But our captain didn't seem to want to turn around, because he just unfurled the sails and let us sit out there for close to half an hour. The felucca definitely wore out its welcome. Although we did spot "Nile Bowling", which is a bowling alley right along the Nile. So we have to go there.

Once everyone had gotten off their feluccas, a group of about 10 of us hopped in two cabs to go to some bar on top of the Odeon hotel. It was in some strange back area of Cairo, but this guy Ian, who has lived here before, knows everything about this city, so we had no problems finding it. The night was really fun, even though the group pretty much split in half, mostly because five of us really hated this guy who tagged along with and refused to speak a word of English in favor of Arabic, even though he's American. Which is like the most pompous thing you can do. Just because you're fluent in Arabic doesn't mean you have to be a dick to everyone. So the five of us had a good time planning our hopeful trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Two of the guys, Beckett and Kyle, are in the room directly next to me, so it was a relief to no longer be alone on my floor. Two of the girls don't live at Zamalek, which sucks for them, and the fifth one, Tara, proved to be a lot of fun. She's traveled pretty much everywhere, and she's fluent in Farsi, and knows a lot of Arabic and French. None of that helped when she got her tab and found out her three gin and tonics set her back over 200 pounds.

After our late night, we were up bright and early for the tour of Old Cairo, which I should have slept through. There were, again, nearly a hundred of us, and only one tour guide. So we couldn't hear anything, it was over 100 degrees, and most of the time was spent waiting outside of small churches and stuff for people to empty out so you could get in. We did see some cool stuff, but I want to go back there without the group so I can actually enjoy it. I have no idea what any of the stuff we saw was, but I think we went down into some room where Mary lived for a month and saw a well she drank out of, and then another well that has something to do with Moses (I think maybe it was his favorite well in Cairo or something), and also the first mosque in Egypt. The mosque was actually really cool. The rest I could have done without.

This is really long. So the same group from the end of our table last night went out for lunch after the tour. Dina (Tomader's abused underling) tipped us off to a great Egyptian place in Zamalek. The place was dark and very Arabic, and the food was fantastic. We bought a huge amount of appetizers and main dishes, and just gorged herself. I spent 45 pounds on pigeons. That's right, I ate two pigeons. And they were actually pretty good!

So more Arabic lessons and stuff. I'm bored of writing. At least I finally took pictures.

This is the best picture I have of the shore of the Nile from the felucca. At least you know what part of the felucca looked like now.

Mary totally loved this well.

Mutilated and divoured pigeons!

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Today I woke up and got on the crazy little shuttle to take us to the AUC campus (I had to sit in the front seat with no seatbelt, which was terrifying) for orientation. I met the only person I knew before arriving here, Emily, which was great. No one in Zamalek seems to understand my sense of humor, so I get a lot of weird stares and blank looks when I make a joke. Emily gets it, so I actually have someone to laugh at everything with, which is really all I ask. Too bad we're not in the same dorm. Hers seems like a bad mix between a hotel and an apartment. There's eight of them in four bedrooms, and they have a kitchen and a full-sized refridgerator and stuff, but they have to buy pretty much everything else. They don't have internet, towels, desks, or shelves. But judging from all of the people I've met from Marwa, and the people that live in Zamalek, I'd trade most of the luxuries I have here for some tolerable company. Okay, that's harsh. The people here are tolerable - just not really my type. Everyone at Marwa seems like they have personalities, and all of Emily's roommates are really cool.

Orientation was a blast. Everyone (all 400 of us) just sat around in this courtyard, completely confused. There were tables all around us with food and drinks, and some people were able to get some, while others were stopped by the employees. We had no idea what we were doing. Then about four people made a small line at this table, where two women were waiting with lists that we had to sign, and information packets to give us. Luckily, Emily and I figured out what was going on early, so we were about fifth and sixth in line, and didn't have to wait in the line for practically two hours like everyone else. We were also able to get the food (bread and butter) and drinks (juice boxes), so I guess the whole ordeal was a success. Once everyone had gotten their stuff, some people started yelling stuff at us through bullhorns, and then everyone just started to move in opposite directions. Eventually we got sorted out into smaller groups of about twenty people, and we went on a tour of the campus. It was all pretty confusing, and I know I'm going to be so lost once classes start, because we never saw any actual classrooms, so I don't know where those are. Again, I was relieved Emily was there, because she was perfectly willing to make fun of the whole ordeal with me. We loved the kid who seems like he only came to AUC to work out - constantly asking where the fitness center and gym are, what kinds of weights they have there, and salivating while peering through the door once we actually got to the fitness center. But our favorite part was the esteemed "Rare Books Library", which everyone was very serious about. I tell you, you've never seen such rare books as those. No one else seemed as amused with the Rare Books Library as us.

After the tour, orientation took a turn for the worse. We sat through hours and hours of lectures from all sorts of people telling us boring stuff about insurance and the medical clinic and registration and visa applications. The best part was the main woman, who will also be doing our advising and registration, Tomader. She's a fiesty, crazy older woman, and was possibly drunk at the time. At one point, she started fighting the guy telling us about finances.

Some things I enjoyed during the mostly painful three hours:
-The "powerpoint presentation", which was really an old-school projector with transparencies that had bizarre drawings and stupid slogans that added nothing to the information, like "We do the DETAILS so you can do the LEARNING."
-The doctor who assured us that we most definitely will be vomiting if we eat pretty much anything.
-The same doctor, who assured us that all the millions of stray cats around the city will scratch and bite us and give us rabies.
-Some guy with the most boring Southern drawl ever, who calls himself the Warden of Cairo, and thought we'd be impressed that the last time there was an emergency and he needed to contact all the students, he got in touch with 60% of them within a day. He claimed that was a good number, but that means almost half of the American students were technically lost. His excuse was that they were probably "at parties or what-have-you."
-This little slut from the American Embassy who was supposed to tell us how to register with the embassy but only seemed to care about the extravagant parties the Marines throw at the embassy for all us Americans. Tomader cut her off and told us not to go to those, because they have just tossed drunk girls out on the streets in the past. I think the "drunk girl" in the story was actually Tomader.

Emily and I skipped out on part of the lecture to go exploring, because the hall had the most uncomfortable chairs of all time. I scored a two-liter bottle of water for only 25 cents, but we returned after getting hassled too much to buy a bunch of crap, and because we needed to get back to the air conditioning.

After the excruciating speeches were over, nine of us managed to catch two cabs (guys sit in the front seats because women might get raped by the cab drivers, explains Tomader, which I think is neither true nor possible) back to our little island in the middle of the Nile, where we finally found cell phones to buy. It took a while because the first store we went into was "out of phone numbers". I know it meant he's allotted a certain amount of numbers per day or whatever, but it was funny to think that there are so many people that they actually have used up all the possible 10-digit combinations, and there are literally no numbers available. "So what, we have to wait until someone dies?" I asked. Only Emily laughed.

We split up and four of us went to get some sort of meal, and I'm ashamed to say my first official meal in Cairo was a New York Sandwich and potato chips. But, really, we've been hard-pressed to find any Egyptian restaurants. Plus we were really hungry and it was the first place we saw. I then came back to my room, thinking of napping before dinner, but all of the sudden there was a knock at my door, and two guys, Josh and Eric from the fifth floor, were asking if I had a balcony. Apparently some rooms have enormous balconies, and they were searching for them. We ended up talking for a while, and were joined by three guys a few rooms down from me. The six of us decided to go get some dinner, and we went to find this Italian restaurant one of the guys, Zeke, had seen earlier. But since this is the most confusing place on the planet and two different streets have the exact same names, we got lost. We toyed with going somewhere else, but we decided not to give up, and eventually did find the place. You may be confused by my lack of Egyptian food, again, but Italy is so close to Egypt, so it's not as bad as American food. Plus it was about four dollars for a huge bowl of fettucini and a soda. Have I mentioned how much I love Egyptian money?

I know I promised a picture, but there's no time to stop and take a picture. Okay, that's a lie. I'm just a reluctant photographer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Too tired for a good title.

This has to be quick because I'm exhausted and I have an early morning.

So, I'm in Cairo finally. The flights were fine. I hate to use the word "ghetto" as an adjective, because I feel like there are usually more apt words, but the only way to describe AlItalia is "ghetto". The planes are just generally crappy, they have only about four drink choices, the meal choices were "beef or fish?" both of which were either un-seasoned beef rolled up into balls, or un-seasoned generic fish rolled up into balls. It was disgusting. And the Milan airport, which I was expecting to be swanky and fashionable had leaky ceilings due to the rain, so you had to step over and around buckets half-filled with rain water, and through actual mud puddles in the middle of the airport. It was very classy.

As I was sitting, waiting for the flight to board, some guy came up to me and said, "Are you going to Cairo?"

"Yes," I replied.



"I'm Bryan."

"I'm Danny," I replied, shaking his hand.

"Do you have a blog?"

That one threw me for a loop. I admitted I did, and he said he had found it while searching for information about AUC. The problem is I had planned on keeping this a secret from everyone over here until I knew I didn't hate them, just to make sure they wouldn't be able to read the nasty things I might end up writing about them. And now the first person I meet has already blown my cover before I even get to Egypt.

So there were 14 of us on the flight from Milan to Cairo, two of whom were from Madison. I'd say, "Small world," but they came through Chicago just like me, and Chicago to Milan to Cairo was the cheapest option. Wah wah waaaah.

The flight in was really, really cool. First I watched the Mediterranean go by, followed by the green, lush northern coast of Africa, followed suddenly by barren desert literally from horizon to horizon, and then an enormous city just sprung up out of nowhere. All the buildings are fairly low, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a paint color used on a building other than brown or tan. So it looks like the sand just kind of hardened into building shapes. And this city is enormous. Tokyo was mind-blowingly huge, but that was only, what? 5 million? Psh. Cairo's packing twenty million.

When we departed the ghettoplane and arrived in Cairo, all of us were noticeably confused. None of us were really sure if anyone would be there waiting for us, but when we got out, sure enough some guy with an "AUC" sign was waiting for us. He led us through immigration and waited while we all grabbed our bags, which took forever, mostely because AlItalia had lost two girls' bags. The driver led us through customs, which I was nervous about for many reasons. I've heard so many things about how hard it is to get laptops into the country, because they think you're going to use them for seditious behavior or something, and you usually have to pay a hefty tax so they don't steal it from you. Also, I had a Salman Rushdie book in my backpack. Good choice for an Islamic country, right? Well, all those horror stories about customs may be true, but not when you've got AUC on your side. The customs agent looked at all the kids and all our bags, said, "You have nothing to declare? Okay!" and then laughed and high-fived our driver while letting us all through. I snuck so many drugs into Egypt! We then followed our dude through the chaotic crowds outside the airport, who were trying to coerce us into their cabs. The second we hit the outdoors, we were blasted with the 95 degree, extremely humid air. Within literally two minutes, everyone was pouring sweat.

This disgusting, confused, and exhausted train of American students followed our driver across crazy streets, through a tunnel, and across a parking lot. We came up to a huge coach bus, which I assumed would be ours. But, in a move made for the movies, the driver kept walking and took us to our real bus, which was waiting just behind the coach bus. Actually, "bus" is being generous. Let's go with "van". So we had to fit 14 kids, each with two suitcases and a backpack into this barely air conditioned bus. I don't mind heat - give me this over Wisconsin winters any day - and it was good because it allowed me to separate everyone into people I like and people I don't, depending on whether they laughed about the absurdity of the whole situation, or just whined about it being too hot. Most people whined.

My dorm was the last out of the four that the bus stopped at, so the trip took over three hours due to the insane traffic. I can't complain, though, because it went through some really beautiful parts of the city that made me instantly fall in love with it. There are so many huge mosques and ancient Egyptian ruins on the side of the road, and there are markets all over the place with bright fabrics and woven baskets filled with spices and people stopping on the sidewalk to get down and pray. It's pretty impossible to describe Cairo. Part Indiana Jones, part Arabian Nights, and part Tatooine is the best I can do.

So we got to the dorm and waited in the lounge while watching really bizarre Egyptian TV, and one by one we were led to our rooms. I was told I was getting a quadruple, but surprise! I was upgraded to a triple. This is awesome. Even better, I have zero roommates! And this room is as big as a house. Well, the no roommates proved to be sort of a bum deal, since my floor is also deserted, and I was forced to go out for the night with a group of only girls, since this place seems to be totally devoid of dudes. My harem and I walked for about an hour around our little island in the middle of the Nile, before we all were about to fall asleep and had to return.

Tomorrow orientation starts, bright and early, and goes for six hours. I hope we do a lot of ice-breaking games!!!!

Sorry for the lack of pictures. My camera's somewhere in my luggage. I promise at least one tomorrow.